Hippo Manchester
September 1, 2005

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Keep those teens busy
by Jody Reese

Sociologists say unsupervised teenage boys are to blame for much of  todayís violence. Many parents are working longer and longer hours, or just arenít good guardians, leaving young men with plenty of time on their hands.

The most dangerous times for these kids, and subsequently for their neighbors, are the four hours between the end-of-day school bell and dinner time and the summer months, when many of these kids are unsupervised for the whole day. Four years ago, Hippo wrote a story about what teenagers do at these times. It was a disturbing picture of teen life where many engaged in destructive activities such as violence, smoking, sex, drug and alcohol use.

Recent incidents underscore the problem: A group of teens attacked a center city man with a baseball bat. Youths broke into Central High School and caused $75,000 in damage. Others have been involved in fights at local 18-plus dance clubs and still others have shot out car windows with BB guns and slashed tires.

Punishment is all well and good but the best option is to keep these things from happening in the first place. The first thing Manchester should do is restore the cityís youth jobs program. Twenty years ago, hundreds of teens worked for the Parks Department cutting grass, trimming bushes and digging holes. That sort of work program was discontinued years ago. We should bring it back using federal Weed and Seed money, a federal grant program designed to deter drug crimes. 

Manchester is lucky to have a variety of summer and after-school programs for youth but many of them are designed for pre-teens. Once teens reach 14, there are fewer programs available that match their interests and desire to earn a little money.

Night events, such as club-like dances, would also be a good way to get teens out of the clubs and into non-alcohol environments. However, to be popular, these events must  reflect what these kids like, not what parents like.

We donít need to coddle these kids but we do need to recognize that they will get into trouble if we don't find them things to do. I don't know about you, but I think a teen work program would be a lot less expensive than the vandalism at Central or the blown out windows. There is no guarantee that these types of vandalism would cease, however it's less likely they would happen, if for no other reason than the kids who might do it would be too tired from a hard day of pulling weeds and staying up late dancing.